Before we get down, can everybody do me a favor? I've let this go on for years now without a word, but seriously, SHUT THE FUCK UP about American Idol already. The more pervasive it becomes in the national discourse, the more my optimism for humanity dims. Thank you … and now on to the real dope.
There's an outside chance that not every reader of this column is a hard- living, health-flouting rocker. Besides, I'm hip to the plight of you jogger types as well. It's all about "the zone," man. Getting there is tough enough; staying in it's even tougher. Throw in a discriminating musical palate and you're screwed. What's a fitness-minded music connoisseur to do?
Well, here's good news: Shoe giant Nike recently released an interesting bit of music titled "All Day" on iTunes (at the Nike Sport Music store) just for your discerning but very chiseled ass. Their Nike + Original Run series comprises exclusively commissioned continuous music mixes tailored for the 45-minute workout. The third and latest chapter was composed by the highly regarded Aesop Rock (previous mixes were done by LCD Soundsystem and the Crystal Method). Being the edgy rapper/producer that he is, this isn't your typical antiseptic Hi-NRG cheese. Actually, it includes lots of live elements like guitar, bass and keys, as well as rhythmic raps and scratches (by DJ Big Wiz), that help keep the piece from receding into audio wallpaper and thus permitting the realization that cardio sucks the big one to resurface.
In my conversation with Aesop, he explained how scientific the structure Nike prescribed him was: The first seven to eight minutes are for the warm-up, the middle 30 minutes are for the workout and the final seven to eight minutes are for the cool-down. He sculpted the composition's trajectory to maintain a constant comfortable-but-driving tempo with a slight spike in energy around the 30-minute mark for that extra homestretch push; the mix is very listenable, even off the treadmill. So pick it up and hit the gym because that youth-sized Death Cab T-shirt ain't workin' for you anymore, fatty.
The serious instrumental rock of L.A.'s Red Sparowes completely owned last week's haps. Headed by a triple-guitar attack, their bravura performance at the Social was marked by epic, towering mountains of song. Evocative, forlorn and crushingly beautiful, the music was in constant motion, displaying remarkable agility for something so monolithic. Further distinguishing themselves from similar acts like Pelican and Isis, the Sparowes' signature included pedal steel guitar. They wielded the instrument's inherent grace without being too twangy, giving their instrumental drama an expressive sway.
Without a single word, their music stroked broad, palpable vistas with a distinct narrative sense, especially when combined with panoramic visuals. The projected images were the perfect accompaniment to their performance. A film backdrop moved with stirring scenes of war-decimated Europe, nuclear test footage, apocalyptic locust swarms and other suggestions of mass destruction in monochromatic hues. The Sparowes created some truly powerful moments with their performance, something I haven't seen to this degree in quite some time.
A couple of other bands playing the night before weren't just good; their sets were validations of live music's redemptive quality. Opener What Made Milwaukee Famous, from Austin, Texas, were much more forceful and vibrant than their recordings. Likable and buoyant in concert, the emotion in their dynamic and fueled pop music was more evident live, particularly because of Michael Kingcaid's strong voice.
Also favored by the live setting was headliner Dr. Dog, who were less meandering onstage than on disc. Their sound was sparked by a more decisive charge, and their Beatles jones, which is a bit too thick on record, was subdued, allowing a pop thrust to come to the fore. Put simply, it was just more fun.
Speaking of the live format, the coffeehouse doesn't come to mind as a place to be impressed sonically. Lots of quiet acts are to be expected, but not necessarily vibrant ones. The performance by L.A.-based the One AM Radio at Stardust Video & Coffee last Sunday, however, was an exception. Primarily the vehicle for frontman Hrishikesh Hirway's music, the act bridges the synthetic and the organic like a shyer cousin of the Notwist. Despite the preprogrammed beats, the approach was amazingly humane with a full live band. With the warmth of orchestral instrumentation — two saxophones, xylophone and upright bass — the tuneful pop shimmered with a hushed symphonic firstname.lastname@example.org